EXCLUSIVE: Retailers demand better treatment from Baselworld in light of Swatch Group exit


Retailers speaking to WatchPro this week have reacted with disappointment, but no great surprise, at Swatch Group withdrawing from next year’s Baselworld.

Harry Brown, managing director of Chisholm Hunter, which is one of Swatch Group’s biggest retail partners in the UK, says he trusts the group’s chief executive, Nick Hayek, made the decision for sound strategic reasons.


“We have been working alongside the Swatch Group for a number of years and they have always been most valued partners to Chisholm Hunter. Although it is a shame that the Swatch Group will no longer be part of Baselworld, when you take in to account how considered Mr Hayek is in conducting his business, I am sure this change has been well thought through. We keenly look forward to seeing the Swatch Group’s exciting proposals for future shows and exhibitions,” Mr Brown says.

Paul Rice, managing director of Northeast of England multiple Hugh Rice, is also looking forward to hearing what Swatch Group plans to do in the future. “As much of a surprise as the news was, there has been so much talk of late around Baselworld’s long term future — most brands who have since left, told me it was purely costs. CHF 50 million is not an insignificant amount of money. However, brands still need a medium to showcase product. I hope that brands stepping away from Baselworld find an alternative solution that will bring the brand and retailer even closer together and completely aligned in their responsibilities and sales objectives,” he urges.

Whatever Swatch Group does to replace its Baselworld showcase, Mr Rice hopes it works in step with its retail partners. “I agree strongly with Mr Hayek’s opinions that in today’s digital world, communication and engagement between brands and retailers, and equally retailers with their client base, must be in real time and immediate. We cannot rely on one event to absorb a whole years’ worth of product and marketing activity, then distribute to our clients in kind. I think the omnichannel marketing message is equally as important as the product, and should possibly be a meeting on its own,” he suggests.

The owner of a several jewellery and watch shops in the North of England, who asked not to be identified, suggests Swatch Group’s move could be a force for good if Baselworld and the city of Basel react positively.

“If Baselworld is to succeed in the future, there have to be some major changes and perhaps this will be the catalyst. The reputation of the beautiful city of Basel is tainted by the overwhelming feeling that the hotels, restaurants, bars and the exhibition organisers take advantage of the visitors, so this may be an opportunity to change that perception,” the executive told WatchPro. “The event has become a public showcase with anyone who is willing to pay the extortionate entrance fee welcome. If it is a trade exhibition, only visitors proving their trade credentials should be allowed to attend.”

Anna Blackburn, managing director of Beaverbrooks, says she is disappointed that Swatch Group is leaving Baselworld. “Their exit will definitely weaken the fair. Having said that we can understand the action they have taken,” she suggests.

“What would make it better? Swatch returning, decent hotels and reasonable prices and reasonably priced restaurants,” she adds.

Baselworld owner and organiser MCH Group, said this week that it has been speaking to Basel’s hospitality industry, with the goal of persuading partner hotels to “guarantee reasonable prices”.

The exhibition’s new managing director, Michel Loris-Melikoff, adds that new ideas were all developed in coordination with Baselworld’s exhibitors. “Of course, I received inputs and these were accordingly taken into consideration. All of our ideas are conceived in close coordination with our exhibitors,” he insists.

He made no mention of speaking to retailers and other visitors.

Some encouraging news for Baselworld is that none of the British industry executives speaking to WatchPro this week say they will stop attending.

The reaction of Adam Spiers, director of Michael Spiers, a chain of luxury jewellers in the Southwest of England, is typical of the wider industry. “In some ways it feels like the end of an era as the Swatch Group has always played such an important role in Baselworld. If they do end their relationship, I believe the show will change quite dramatically — just from the perspective of the show loosing 18 Swatch Group watch brands from Hall 1. However, as an official retailer of Rolex, Patek Philippe, Breitling and Tag Heuer, the show will continue to be a firm fixture in our calendar,” he describes.

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